Sea Shepherd entered Bermudan waters in the midst of a controversy over plans by a company called Bermuda Dolphin Oasis to build a "swim with dolphins" tourist facility at the former Sonesta Beach hotel in Southhampton.
The plan to build the Dolphin Park is being promoted by Lynn and Martin Hassell who used to run a dolphin facility of questionable reputation in Antigua.
The good news is that conservationists have won "round one" of the battle to prevent the development of the dolphinarium. The plans call for the dredging of Sinky Bay on the south shore.
The Development Application Board (DAB) is set to hear the application submitted by Bermuda Dolphin Oasis today, but technical officers in the Department of Planning have recommended that it be refused.
The developers responded by requesting that their application be withdrawn, but the planning department does not allow withdrawal without a penalty. Planning director Rudolph Hollis confirmed he had received a call on December 8 from the applicants to pull the application. He stated that planning rules do not allow a last minute withdrawal when technical officers have recommended a refusal unless the applicant is prepared to go through the whole application process from the beginning.
If rejected or approved by the Planning Board, the issue is certain to be appealed to the Ministry of the Environment by either the applicant or those who object to the development.
Mr. Hollis stated that the decision of the Planning Board will be made public in a week - the Board will either accept the application, reject it, or defer its decision.
The plan is also being opposed by Dolphin Quest, a dolphin park at the Bermuda Maritime Museum. It has submitted a brief to DAB. Dolphin Quest is opposing the plan because the application is missing critical information, and cites health threats to both dolphins and humans. Dolphin Quest said that the location would put dolphins in harm's way during storms. Originally, Dolphin Quest was located on the South shore. In a statement, Dolphin Quest said, "Our own heart-breaking experience at the original Dolphin Quest Bermuda location taught us to respect the ferocity and unpredictability of extreme weather on Bermuda's South Shore and we hope it has served as a learning experience for Bermuda planners and caretakers."
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is concerned that the dredging will cause significant damage to marine life in the shallow Sinky Bay.
In a statement from his ship in St. Georges, Bermuda, Captain Paul Watson said, "The recent attempt to develop a dolphinarium in Antigua was a major disaster. How many more such disasters must be undertaken before we end this fool-hardy business of displaying and abusing captive dolphins? Bermuda has good and strong laws pertaining to dredging, and we are confident that Environment Minister Neletha Butterfield will make the right decision - that she will rule against such an application if it has cause to come before her for a decision."
The Bermuda chapter of Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) is also a strong voice opposing the development of this captive dolphin facility in Bermuda.